[Screen It]


(1998) (Tony Shalhoub, Cheech Marin) (PG)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Minor *Minor Moderate *Moderate None
Mild None Mild None Minor
Smoking Tense Family
Topics To
Talk About
*Minor None Mild Moderate Minor

Children's: A talking parrot, which doesn't mimic but instead completely understands human speech, sets off on a cross country trek to find his former owner.
Misha (TONY SHALOUB), a Russian immigrant, takes a job as a janitor at a research lab where he witnesses and hears an amazing spectacle. In the lab's basement, he finds Paulie (voice of Jay Mohr), a parrot that doesn't mimic, but instead can completely understand human speech and can carry on an intelligent conversation. Misha is curious about why Paulie is locked in the basement and so the Blue-crown Conure parrot tells the janitor about his lifelong odyssey to find his previous owner that eventually led to his current location.

In flashback we see that owner as Marie (HALLIE KATE EISENBERG), a young girl with a stuttering problem whom Paulie befriends and helps with her speech impediment. After the young girl takes a fall from the roof trying to teach Paulie how to fly, however, her parents take him away. From that point on, he falls into the hands of Artie (BUDDY HACKETT), a pawnshop owner who teaches the bird wisecracks. He is then purchased by Ivy, a widow who eventually begins driving Paulie toward L.A. where Marie now lives, but along the way Ivy goes blind and dies.

Teaching himself how to fly, Paulie heads for the west coast where he meets a female parrot and performs in a musical show at a taco stand run by Ignacio (CHEECH MARIN). After being "birdnaped" by Benny (JAY MOHR), a two-bit con man who introduces Paulie to the world of petty crime, the parrot finally ends up at a lab run by Dr. Reingold (BRUCE DAVISON), who promises to find Marie once they're done testing him. Hearing this story, Misha then decides to do what he can to help Paulie find his former owner.

It's aimed squarely at the under ten-year-old set, but it's uncertain how many kids will want to see this film.
For brief mild language.
  • PAULIE is a talking parrot who's had a rough life and along the way learns to insult people through wisecracks, becomes a petty thief accomplice, but eventually turns out to be an okay bird as he tries to find his owner.
  • TONY SHALHOUB plays a gentle and compassionate Russian immigrant who risks his job security in order to help Paulie.
  • HALLIE KATE EISENBERG plays a little girl with a stuttering problem who hates hearing her parents argue about her condition.


    OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
    Following in the footsteps of the immensely popular talking pig movie, "Babe," and hitting the big screen before this summer's highly anticipated flick, "Dr. Doolittle," "Paulie" hopes to score big with the young kid crowd by being yet another talking animal movie. While the film has its moments for both children and adults, it never quite succeeds at fully entertaining either group and thus falls into a cinematic limbo ensuring a less than stellar performance at the box office. Expect better returns once the picture makes it to home video.

    Kids, and adults for that matter, have always been fascinated by parrots for their ability to "talk." Of course, they only have the unique ability to mimic what they've previously heard, but the idea of having a parrot that can actually understand and converse is a good idea. Unfortunately, the film can't ever decide whether it wants to entertain the kids or their parents. While kids will like the sight and sounds of a parrot that can talk, the filmmakers opted for him to be an adult character instead of being a younger one such as the pig in "Babe." Thus, there's the immediate problem that kids won't "identify" with his character. In fact, once his owner Marie disappears from the story, there are no more "child-like" characters.

    The bigger problem, however, comes from long passages in the film that will bore kids into fits of restless behavior. If you're going to make a film like this, it should have lots of fun and zany moments (like "Babe"), but director John Roberts and screenwriter Laurie Craig (both making their major film debuts) have opted instead for trying their hand at more sentimental moments. While the adults might appreciate those efforts, the many scenes where nothing happens, except for lots of conversations, will not please the little ones. At our preview screening, there were many moments of collective unrest among the tykes.

    This isn't to say that the film is bad. It's just that it doesn't go far enough to entertain kids, which seems odd since they're obviously the target audience. Additionally, the brief moments of humor -- Paulie nervously asking Benny, "Your not going to kiss me, are you?" as they stop at a lover's lane spot overlooking L.A., or Paulie watching the movie "The Birds" and saying "Get 'em! Get 'em!" -- might elicit a chuckle from the adults, but not many kids. Sure, there are the obligatory belching and farting sounds for the kids that did get them to giggle, but it just seems that the filmmakers missed so many opportunities to please the kids.

    The performances are okay for a film such as this. Tony Shalhoub ("Big Night" and TV's "Wings") bring a certain compassion to his role and his Russian immigrant character is clearly and symbolically related to Paulie's isolation. Gena Rowlands (a multi-Oscar nominee for films such as "Gloria" and "A Woman Under The Influence") briefly appears in the film as Paulie's companion, but then abruptly goes blind and dies, leaving Paulie all alone. Despite trying to soften the blow by having Paulie describe her demise by saying that the "cat got her," it's an odd moment for a kids' film.

    Cheech Marin (of "Cheech and Chong" fame and films such as "Tin Cup") is pretty much underused as an east L.A. taco stand entertainer and Hallie Kate Eisenberg (in her big screen debut) is good as the little girl with the stuttering problem. Like Rowlands' character, however, she abruptly disappears from the story (but at least doesn't die).

    The technical work on Paulie the speaking parrot is quite good and after a while one easily accepts that the bird actually can talk and understand human speech. Combining Boone Narr's use of real critters and Stan Winston's animatronic birds, the effect is quite realistic.

    While it's good to see a film aimed at the kids that doesn't include the obligatory and stereotypical "Home Alone" antics with the inane villains falling victim to pratfalls caused by precocious tykes, it would have been nice had the film tried -- and succeeded -- at entertaining the kids a little more than it does. Although some of the kids clapped at the end of the film, I overheard many youngsters leaving the theater stating that they didn't like it very much. That's not a good sign. While the film is pleasant enough for both kids and adults alike, there just aren't enough moments for the little ones to keep them glued to what's happening on the screen. Therefore, we give "Paulie" just a 5.5 out of 10.

    There's very little to object to in this film. A few moments may be tense or unsettling to the youngest of kids, but that all depends on your child's age and temperament. A few scenes deal with a young child with a stuttering problem who must listen to her parents argue and fight about her condition, and in another scene Paulie's older companion quickly goes blind and then dies (the latter isn't seen, but we're briefly told about it). A petty thief gets Paulie wrapped up in a minor crime spree, but the bird later admits that what he did was wrong. There's nearly no profanity, but several imitative terms are used. Since kids may want to see this film, you should probably look through the material to make sure it's okay for them.

  • Background characters drink beer in a few scenes.
  • Although neither bloody nor gory, we do hear Paulie belch and fart in separate scenes.
  • Marie's parents argue in front of her about her stuttering problem.
  • Benny is a petty thief who "birdnaps" and then talks Paulie into being his accomplice as they steal people's ATM cards and make illegal cash withdrawals. Later, Paulie flies into a house to steal some jewelry, but is caught.
  • Bennie calls the police and lies to them about what's happening at Ignacio's performance (he says that they're serving liquor to kids, etc...).
  • Dr. Reingold has both as he broke his promise to Paulie that he'd take him to Marie once they were done with their tests. Instead, he locks the bird in a cage and leaves him in a darkened basement.
  • The following may or may not be unsettling to kids, obviously depending on their age and tolerance level:
  • The opening sequence, which occurs during a thunderstorm and where Misha goes into a dark, mysterious basement and hears voices, may be unsettling to some kids.
  • There's a comically adventurous scene where the family cat chases after Paulie.
  • Marie climbs out onto her second story windowsill and stands there, trying to teach Paulie how to fly. It breaks away, however, and she falls down the roof and then briefly dangles from the gutter before falling and landing in her father's arms.
  • Some kids may find it unsettling watching Marie run out into the street screaming as her father takes Paulie away for good.
  • Ivy begins having problems seeing while driving and nearly hits an oncoming truck and must swerve out of the way at the last moment.
  • Some kids may find it unsettling that Ivy has gone blind and then moments later to find out that she's inexplicably died.
  • There's a comically tense scene as a little boy secretly follows Paulie through his house after the bird has stolen some jewelry.
  • Some researchers hold Paulie down on a table as they take a cutting device and clip his wings (ie. We see them cutting his wing feathers) and we hear Paulie screaming in pain.
  • Kids may find a scene where Misha tries to get Paulie out of the research lab while guards come after them as tense.
  • None.
  • Phrases: "Mop monkey," "Stupid hairball" (toward the cat), "Ugly," "Toots" and "Broad" (for a woman), "Geez," "Loser," "Jerk," "Taco man" (what Bennie calls Ignacio), and "Up yours, jackass" (repeatedly said by Paulie to Dr. Reingold after he's learned that the researcher has lied to him).
  • Paulie belches and farts in separate scenes that elicited laughter from the kids in the audience.
  • Marie climbs out onto her second story windowsill and stands there, trying to teach Paulie how to fly.
  • Paulie makes some wisecracks toward people, a "talent" he learned from Artie.
  • None.
  • There are several scenes that have a mild amount of suspenseful music in them (most accompanying the scenes listed under "Frightening/Tense Scenes").
  • None.
  • 2 uses of "My God," what sounded like 1 use of "G-damn" (said by Artie), and 1 use of "Oh my Lord" as exclamations.
  • The dress worn by Marie's mother shows some cleavage when she bends over in one scene, but it's obviously not shown to be provocative.
  • None.
  • Marie can't stand hearing or seeing her parents fight and/or argue about her stuttering problem (that occurs in several scenes).
  • Parrots and their ability to mimic speech.
  • Stuttering.
  • That Paulie's time as an accomplice to petty thieves was wrong and not funny (as shown in the movie -- although he later admits to knowing what he did was wrong).
  • Why Marie's parents took Paulie away from her.
  • What happened to Ivy (she quickly goes blind and then inexplicably dies).
  • Some researchers hold Paulie down on a table and cut his wing feathers to prevent him from flying and we hear Paulie screaming in pain.
  • Misha cuts through Paulie's cage to free him and later bends and tears a screen made of wire mesh that covers a window to escape.

  • Reviewed April 14, 1998

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